Jet Lag Fog

After coming back from the trip with my son, not all parts of my brain have been working correctly.  There is the expected restless nights and the craving of an afternoon nap.  There is the attempt to ingest an appropriate amount of caffeine to help navigate those times when napping seems unnecessary.  And, finally there is the complete inability to watch a show on the DVR at 9:30 PM without falling sleep–it used to be one of my favorite shows!!

Late yesterday afternoon, I needed to call a supplier.  They never replied to an email I sent confirming pricing and availability of a product.  Since they are a time zone to the west, they still had the lights on and they were able to answer my questions.  To avoid confusion with any email issues, they advised me to change the email address I used to contact them with any future orders.  This made sense and was noted somewhere in the ephemeral fog of my post-trip brain.  I then went on to send the quote to my customer.

This morning after receiving a confirmation from my customer, I prepared a Purchase Order for my supplier.  Some deep part of my brain said, “You need to change the email address you are sending the PO to.”  At the time, it seemed completely logical.  I did not question in the least this inner urging.  I did a copy and paste into the email field and hit “Send”.

As the fog cleared, the realization hit me.  And, the email was beyond the use of any “Recall” buttons.  While my fog recalled part of my instructions, the fog conveniently forgot to gather the right email before “sending” to the supplier.  As it turned out, I grabbed my customer’s email address and then sent the Purchase Order to them…not my supplier.  If you are not realizing what I did, I let my customer know exactly what I was paying for the products they had purchased from me.  These were not thousand dollar items, but this type of fog-induced error certainly has me ready to do a dance should they contact me and wonder why I am making such a “scandalous profit” off of them. (My discount off of my supplier’s website is 30% and I gave the customer a 10% discount, so they are still coming out ahead—it is just the guy in the mirror who will beat me up for a couple of hours.)

What did I do?  I did what any reasonable person would do.  I pretended I didn’t send the email to my customer.  I correctly changed the email address and sent it to my supplier.  My supplier confirmed the receipt and my customer remained silent.  Since this is a repeat customer, the worst thing to likely happen is they will say, “We want to pay this price and NOT that one.”  If they do this, I will have a concrete reminder not to commit this “middle man” sin again….

Women In My Life Today

As I attempt to bring some product over from China for my business, I have had the pleasure to encounter a few women today who provided some degree of help.  The vocations of 2 of the 3 are known.  Since the vocation of the last is unknown, I have taken the liberty to assign her a role that I found as humorous….

  1. The Broker:  Last night (Tuesday), the company representative from a Chinese company provided me a piece of paperwork referred to as an ISF (Importer Security Filing).  After approximately 10 emails went back and forth last night (morning time for China), I realized even though our emails appeared to both be written in English, we were not communicating.  (Before I ordered this product, I really tried to sort all of this out so this problem would not occur.  Either I was unable to properly express this concern OR the Chinese salesperson just wanted the sale and was not concerned about any hiccups that might effect me on this side of the Pacific pond.) With my inadequate understanding of Chinglish, I was left with only one option–I needed to call the company in Los Angeles that was receiving the container from China that carried my stuff.  As I spoke to Alexa this morning, I turned on my charm OR my absolute cluelessness could not be disguised.  She gave me two options to resolve my problem:
    1. You can go down to your local customs office and file the ISF
      with them (they will walk you through it) just make sure to take all your
      documents with you.  Since I did not know what paperwork and I did not have much time before the cost of my importing went up (I believe I have 48 hours after the boat casts off in China to get the paperwork filed.), I did not see this as a viable option.
    2. We can file the ISF for you, but you will have to wire transfer
      $200.00 and fill out a POA with our Customs Broker.  I didn’t like the cost, but I believed the cost was a fair trade when balanced against the potentially higher cost of failing to file the paperwork in a timely manner.  As part of this option, I needed to get a piece of paperwork notarized at the bank.
  2. The Banker:  I have worked with the banker quite a few times.  She is always glad to give me a helping hand.  Although I don’t recall, she claims I often have an entertaining story or two.  Today, I can only recall my elevated stress level.  I needed to get a deposit and a wire transfer done.  Fortunately, these were quite easy.  The challenge was the Power of Attorney document.  It needed to be witnessed by someone other than a bank employee.  So, being a resourceful person, I asked if any of the clients in the bank lobby were available for this task.  Once permission was granted, I turned on my charm, or more appropriately, made a beeline for the only person in the lobby.
  3. The Candlestick Maker:  I have no idea what this person does.  I didn’t need to know.  All I needed was a signature confirming her as a “witness” who saw me attach my signature to the Power Of Attorney document.  I needed nothing more from her.  I didn’t need to tell her what I was ordering from China.  I didn’t need to try and sell her on the legitimacy of what I was buying.  Frankly, I did not even need her real name.  I only needed to have a signature of someone or something as a “Witness”.  If I were to choose someone to sign my document I would not have chosen a mousey woman like her to do it.  My standards were thrown out the window when “eenie-meenie-minee-mo” was not an option.  After I practically coerced her to sign, I did feel a bit badly.  Those feelings were easily ignored in light of the pressing need to get the paperwork done.  Conscious clear–Keep moving on!

As I continued to talk with the banker as I worked my may through the task, I did find out my tactics on “Mouse Woman” may have been solely responsible for removing the lobby as a potential recruiting ground for “witnesses”.  Should I ever need a witness again (unlikely I would ever have such a tight time table, but certainly possible), I have my strategy planned.  I will comb the bank parking lot or the health club nearby.  I will bribe a person (or buy them Subway across the street)  to have them volunteer as an associate or friend or fellow cabalists.  Whatever the contrived story, it will keep the machine of business moving forward and the sweat shops of China active.

Honorable Mentions

  1. The Model:  As I was taking my walk along a long strip of sidewalk running parallel to a railroad track, I saw an object growing in size as approached the crest.  As I continued to get nearer, I noticed a young lady in a one piece bathing suit on the railroad tracks.  There was a gentlemen guiding her movements while he had camera in hand.  He had her do a sitting pose one way and then the other as he tried to make the most of the mid-afternoon sun.  Once I realized the photography session, I falsely assumed it was a girl getting senior pictures taken (or something like that)  Although they may still have been senior pictures, my closer proximity revealed the coloring I attributed to being shadows were actually tattoos covering about 1/3 of the areas her bathing suit did not cover.   I did not stare as I past. I looked down at the camera bag that originally grabbed my attention. I just said a little prayer hoping my daughters don’t decide to get tattooed in the same way.
  2. The Phone Jockey:  When coming home from my walk, Tru Green had placed their service paperwork in our front door.  I usually don’t look at it, but this active brain of mind seemed to be demanding it be fed something.  As I looked at the bill, it appears we only had 1 sq foot of our yard treated.  Since I already prepaid for this years treatment, I will admit to feeling pretty ripped off.  I called the customer service number and finally talked to someone (a she someone so she qualifies for being included) after being told a few times of the high call volumes and how I was insane not to leave a message.  She checked old service orders, and seemed to confirm the recent order was probably a typo.  She offered to have the technician call me, but when the “retreatment” option was offered, I did what any loyal customer would do – I said, “Yes, thank you!”  Since this was just yesterday, I am anticipating seeing another work order again soon with more realistic numbers.

An Exciting Opportunity To Quote For A Customer

One of those periodical emails came in yesterday.  It is maybe a little different than some of the emails you have received.  (I used to be a member of a promotional products organization.  So, I get the emails you get [if they are not blocked by my spamguard], plus other email based on whatever groups I have been members of.

The email reads like this:


Hello Sales,

I am making inquire if your company stock below items as urgent
need for my company promotion at an event. Kindly advice pricing on
the items below. 1 color imprint .

USB Flash Drive ( Capacity 4GB )…….Quantity…. 1700 UNITS

Your urgent response will be appreciate  ASAP

Jude Lahm ( purchase manager )
Oriented Standard Inc.
Email :


Often, this is accompanied by some type of questions about what credit cards I accept and how (if the items are larger) I ship the product.

The top of the email was also accompanied with one of these:

This message may not have been sent by:
Meaning, this email was not “evil” enough to qualify as “spam”, but you should be cautious.
Lesson Learned:  Trust your Spam filter.  (It may be fun to see what current spam messages are popular.  I have done this a few times.  It seems “new” spam messages come in waves.  A whole page of my spam folder can be filled with nearly the same subject line.)  And, if random emails still come through, don’t be afraid to hit the button to send the email to the depths of purgatory.  (You are not deleting the email, but are telling your spam filter [in my case Google] to look out for more emails that look like this one)

Can I Afford Not To Go After This Business….

I receive an email or two like this a week.  My reading of this email leads me to believe they want me to provide a full list of the products I offer.  Maybe I am in dire need of a personal touch, but I am pretty sure I am not the only random email this was sent out to.  Most of the other emails ask me to reply with the credit cards I take.  Maybe this line was dropped because it was turning off too many people.  😦

The company is listed here:

I wonder if a “Misty Smith” works there?

Here is the Google+ page?  They look pretty active, don’t they?

Bottom line:  They may not live in Nigeria (maybe they do, but are trying to appear otherwise).  They are just thieves wanted you to think they want to give you an order.  Thanks, but I have better ways of wasting my time!


Dear Sir/Madam,
Tiger Development Inc,is a procurement specialists company, we are always interested in working with suppliers and vendors to provide our clients with high quality goods and services. We are interested in making an order for our coming event and the items will be giving out to our clients an incentive.

Please provide us with the technical specification and models available in stock.

We look forward to receiving your reply soon.

Yours Sincerely,
Misty Smith (Admin).

Company Name: Tiger Development Inc
Address: 3701 Perkiomen Ave # 3,
City: Reading
ZIP : 19606****************************************

The End of An Era…..??

It was a early May morning in 2006 when SignSeen and I met.  We took awhile to get to know each other.  After I understood her better, I moved her around a few times and paid different “doctors” to look after her.  When necessary, I brought in experts to help her in areas she was week.  Unfortunately, I think I am falling out of love with the girl….

The internet just isn’t what it used to be.  She used to be more forgiving.  And, often just showing up was enough for her to take money with the promise of product being sent.  If money was spent to bring visitors to her door, she seemed to know just what to show them to make the sale be completed.  She knew what she needed to do, and she was not distracted as easily as she is now.

The older she has gotten, the more and more difficult it is to keep her as popular.  Once she was cute and had enough for most any visitor.  But, as she has aged and failed to get the necessary face lifts; she has lost her allure.

And, as poorly as I have tried to develop an analogy for my website, the bottom line is I am running out of steam for the old girl! Due to technical mistakes (some by me and some by my developer) and a refusal to continue to spend money on marketing that seems to have less than satisfactory results, I am trying to summon one last bit of energy to push the site into a healthy place.  If it makes it, YEAH!!  If not, then, I count on something else to come.  If maintaining a website and breaking even is a worthy goal, then I need to find other goals to try and attain.

I have been letting other parts of my past businesses stick around.  Many of these past businesses are just slightly annoying, but not really big time commitments.  This list includes:

  • My business selling to a large retail chain from Columbus, Ohio  Now, this business is just maintaining the customers existing products.
  • My purchase of an eBay business selling backyard pond supplies (lasted a little over a year, and then let it go to business partner)
  • Purchase of another eBay business. A website was set up to easily update ebay store, but the expense of the site eventually made it unattractive to pursue heavily.  Now, it is just a small eBay store with a sister website—minimum orders without much expense.  However, the eBay store has provided a venue to sell product from other businesses.
  • Purchased another sign site to try and take advantage of the SEO on the site for “sidewalk signs” and other keywords.
  •  I tried to create a variety of other sign sites from the VAST set of domain names I have.  The headache of maintaining became more than I could successfully handle.  I was stretched to thin.  I  am suspect the stretching done by the multiple sites was the push into the land of “no return”.  (Or, if not “no return”, it won’t be a clear path back…)
What business is next?  I don’t need one, and I am not writing off the one I already am working.  I will see where the sign site goes and what experiences I have between now and then.  I will do something. And, if I am lucky, the “something” will be clear.  If not, I will still do…

No Longer Taking American Express On Websites

I sure do seem to be a whiner lately!!

Today, I am ticked (again) .  This time it is regarding the policies of my recent nemesis, American Express.  Besides charging me back recently, they took a bit out of me when I refunded a customer for a Canadian sign order.

The purchase price (with shipping) was $674.  The credit card fees were over $23.  When realizing I would not be able to ship to this customer, I completed a refund yesterday.  Typically, when I do a refund, the credit card fees is added back in.  So, my portion of the refund would only have been a little over $650.  The rest would have been supplied by PayPal refunded their fee.  However, due to a change at AMEX (or PayPal), the credit card fees are no longer refunded.  So, my refund of $674 ended up costing me over $697.

Since I am a man of action, I decided to reduce any additional pain in this area.  I called PayPal and let them know that I want American Express turned off on my websites.  And, I had it done to both of my PayPal accounts.  So, I am sorry if you want to check out on my websites using American Express, but their (or PayPals) policies have started to make it a poor business decision.

Post Charge Back Thoughts and Decisions

I will admit that any hope a seller may hold onto of winning a charge back is pretty hopeless.  However, as a frequent optimist (all business owners better me mostly optimist), I was holding on and hopeful that American Express would decide in my favor.  I knew the sign had been delivered, and I had provided the bill of lading number for the AMEX review.  The check and loss had already been accepted, but I still gave myself a chance of “winning”.

About a week ago, the debit to my PayPal account took place.  I had already accepted the reality of it, but the finality made me crazy.  Not only was the the sign and shipping credited back to the customer, but PayPal charges $20 for the pleasure of taking your money.  And, as the pessimism snuck deeper into my head and heart, I added up the material cost and labor cost.  These cost with the shipping that won’t be refunded totaled more than $500 more than the charge back.  Bottom line:  I felt pretty beat upon.

[Aside:  My ebay store that had  100% feedback also took a hit last week.  A customer who bought a $5 item felt the need to refer to my customer service as “terrible” and to “question” how I could have 100% feedback.  Well, he took care of my perfect feedback. (I filed a complaint, so we will see if it sticks) He got a refund plus got to keep the product I shipped despite his late request for a refund.  One more customer incident last week and my “Why do I deal with customers and make so little?” would have have had me the “why” with a “no good reason”.  But, yet I hung on….]

One friend felt badly that I was dealt such a bad deal with the magnet sign, that he decided to help me recover a portion of the charge back.  He posed as an insurance claims adjuster.  The conversation went something like this:


“Hello, Eddie”, said Claims.
“We have paid SignsSeen off for the charge back you filed against them. We would like to pick up the sign.” stated Claims.
“What sign?”
Claims replied, ” The sign you purchased and filed a charge back over.  You claimed the sign was poorly made and of poor quality.”
“Oh, that sign.”
“Since the sign is damaged and you are unable to use it, we just want to pick it up to try and get some of our money back on it.  You also mentioned the letters were not working for you.  We will pick those up at the same time that we pick up the sign.” informed Claims.
“I did try and use the letters.  What will you shipping cost be?”
“Do you still have the box the sign shipped in?  If not, it would cost us about $250.” replied claims.
“If it is just $250, I could pay that and save you the trouble.”


So, if my friend gets $250, he will give me the check.  But, this issue combined with the small ebay issue has left an extremely bad taste in my mouth in recent days.  Working nearly full-time for “hobby income” is stupid.  So, the net results of these events, my thoughts and other business & personal issues are I am turning my business of 7 years back into a hobby.  The phones will still ring, but we may not pick up as often.  The orders will still be processed, but they may not ship same day.  And, I am cutting expenses and likely selling less, but I figure I will still net more money.

I can’t think about that charge back without getting very angry.  But, if God needed to use the charge back to nudge my “job” back into a hobby, then I think it can still be a good investment!


Credit Card Chargebacks

I will be one of the first to admit that my products are not perfect.  And, not every customer will love the item they purchased right out of the box.  Since I want to try and keep customers happy, I will try and work with them when this happens.  As the seller, I usually think I get the worse end of the deal, but if the customer is mostly happy, then it hopefully all works out.

As I opened my email this morning, I received one of the worst type of emails I could receive. A customer had initiated a chargeback for the item he purchased.  Because I had no idea of the problem he had with his sign, this was very disturbing to me.  I immediately emailed the customer to try and find out what problem  he encountered.  I also logged into my credit card processor to provide the proof of shipping and receiving information that they required.  I then went about my day with a less than positive attitude.

When my email was checked a few hours later, the customer had responded.  He let me know he had emailed me 10 days ago and addressed his concerns.  (I never saw it until this morning.) After I did not respond, he told me he had no choice but to file the chargeback.  Did he have the right to file the chargeback?  Of course!  Did he have a choice?  Well, if his phone worked he did!  It is hard to try and resolve an issue if you don’t know the issue exists.  And, if you are about to make a decision that affects another persons ability to do business (my credit card company haq “frozen” funds for the total cost of his purchase until the issue is resolved–sometimes this takes 2-4 weeks), it seems like a phone call and voice mail is the minimum step any customer should go to before choosing to initiate a chargeback.

I have filed chargebacks in the past.  Before I have done it, I have sent numerous emails and left several messages.  If they don’t respond to voice mails, then the assumption is they don’t want to be reached.  Rarely (if ever), do I send one email to a person and automatically assume it goes through.  If they don’t respond, I send another or I call.  When you assume, neither one of us is completely innocent.  And, I believe customers need to take some responsibility…especially if the sale is over $1,000.

The additional irony with this sale was this:  After the customer placed the order, I called him (yes, with a phone) within 2 hours of the order being placed to confirm what he wanted with the sign.  I guess he didn’t remember my phone worked after the sign arrived….

Can I give you a tip…..??

I purchased a business a few years ago on eBay, and, for a few years,  the boys helped operate it.  I was preparing to hand it off to my daughters, but my experience of yesterday will probably prevent that from happening any time soon….
The day started with the train ruining my dropping off of my daughters at school.  After running slightly ahead of schedule, the “train” completely ruined any opportunity of being early.  After making a “U-ee”, we navigated to get around the stopped train.  Is a train really allowed to stop for over 5 minutes on a train as traffic continues to pile up?  Just FOUR more train cars!!!!  I still had to modify my “commute” after dropping them off–the train was still sitting there.
After having been gone for a long weekend visiting Harding University, my laptop was anxious to be fired up.  But, it did not want to be fired up to allow me to do any “work”.  It was excited to let Norton scan all of its necessary innards for a FEW hours.  I was not completely unproductive due to my “backup” computer, but it was much less productive than normal.  And, it was the need to fulfill the filter orders that have allowed me to “provide” my tip….
The business in question is providing carbon pre-filters to customer who use small home air filters.  The carbon filter is purchased in bulk, and the filter is cut using circular scissors.  Each filter size has a separate template to ensure the filter is cut correctly.  If the scissors attempt to cut the filter but are not able to make complete contact with the filter, often the template needs to have the scissors ran along its edge more than once.  (The surface we cut on is not completely even, so we generally kneel on the template while the scissors run along  the edge.)  As I was cutting one order yesterday and feeling a little frustrated about my morning, I was doing one of those “secondary” cuts.  Unfortunately, the middle fingertip of my left hand was slightly outside the protection of the template.  It happened pretty quick, but it will be hard to remove the view of my fingertip (very thin, but yet recently a connected part of my body) setting on the cutting mat.  Since the injury was not cauterized immediately, my immediate concern became stopping the bleeding.  And, it took awhile….
  • Paper towels:  These were a constant part of the process.  The fingers are full of blood vessels, and the contents of a few of them flowed out my fingertip.  A few paper towels were soaked on that day!
  • Pressure:  I tried pressure, but since a tourniquet was not going to be self-administered, I moved on to plan C.
  • Cold:  Since it was on the fingertip, I put ice in a cup of ice and made my finger dive-in.  This had some success, but besides fully numbing my finger, it did not adequately slow the flow…
  • Elevate:   Finally due to boredom with the entire bleeding process OR an actual outwitting of the individual blood cells, this solved the problem.

Thankfully, this allowed me to “sort of” get some work done.  Not smoothly or without hiccups, but progress was made on my swelling list…  Two bandaids were needed–one over the top and down the sides and one around the tip.

A bandaid change and a bit of hydrogen peroxide and the finger was put to bed for the night…only a little seepage.  Handwashing has do be done to prevent gravity from prematurely soaking the bandaids, but the temporary modification shouldn’t kill me.
And, why do I write this out?  As on many days when I hope to be productive, God proves he has a sense of humor.  He reigns in our ambition and forces us to accede control to Him!

Supplier Purging

Never an easy thing to do, but over the past week I have purged a few suppliers from the websites.  (There may still be some residue of their presence on a site or two.)

Most of these suppliers have been on the site for 2-4 years.  They were good suppliers.  They shipped promptly.  They provided tracking information once the items shipped.  And, they were easily available by phone and/or email.  So, why were there products removed from the websites….

  1. Lack of sales – I would love to say every supplier that allows me to put their product on my site is guaranteed LOTS of sales.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  My websites have been around a few years, and despite the efforts of my SEO folks, some keywords just have never gained traction.  They know the right way to attach this dilemma, but after a few years of uncooperative sales, it is time to retire the suppliers.  In most cases, I have maintained the category and referred the web customer directly to the suppliers website.
  2. Infrequent orders = Ineffective Process – This may come down to some degree of laziness, but it is a fact that cannot be ignored.  Both my assistant and I “dread” the order coming in from a supplier where the last order was more than 3 months ago.  In many cases the margins may not be as high due to the product being a less expensive item.  And, with the additional effort needed to “remember” how to place the order, the profit margin on the product goes down even more.  The supplier this most strongly applies to was a good supplier, but when the profit is less than $10 per item, it is hard justify.
  3. Web Maintenance – There are two parts to this problem…both revolving pricing.  When orders are placed infrequently, the supplier does not think of you very quickly when they have to raise their prices.  When an order comes in, often customers need to be called back to make sure they still want to make the purchase.  And, of course, once the NEW price sheet arrives the web pricing needs to be updated.  If the price sheet is over 800 items, their is considerable time to update ALL items.  If only we knew which items were to be purchased, we would only up date those….
  4. Ineffective Marketing Efforts – As I seek to use blogs and Facebook and articles etc to highlight the products I carry, SO many products make the marketing inconsistent.  My goal continues to be marketing the products where my margins are highest.  My incentive goes WAY down when I make so little on each sale.  This is more an indictment of me then my suppliers.
I am fortunate that many other products continue to sell well on my various websites.  And, when I am not learning and growing, I am growing bored and burnt out.  I may regret my recent purging, but it has reinvigorated me (at least temporarily) to dive back in with more passion.  Feel free to contact me!